The Israeli government announced plans to offer asylum seekers a stark choice: self-deport to a third country or face indefinite imprisonment. Residents of south Tel Aviv, where many asylum seekers live, stage a counter-protest.
By Oren Ziv/Activestills.org
Some 300 Israeli activists staged a protest against the Israeli government’s stated future policy of deporting asylum seekers back to Africa Saturday night in central Tel Aviv’s Habima Square. Around 100 residents of Tel Aviv’s southern neighborhoods, where many asylum seekers live, staged a counter-protest.
Refugee activists shouted, “no to deportation,” and called for “solutions for the neighborhoods, not deportation and Holot.” The counter-protesters held signs blaming the New Israel Fund for the situation in South Tel Aviv, and demanding the deportation of the asylum seeker population in Israel.
A large number of police officers stood between the two protests.
“Our message is simple: it is not acceptable for asylum seekers, who are [guaranteed] protection under international law, to be deported from Israel,” said Sigal Avivi, one of the activists who organized the protest. “They are not examining their asylum requests.”
Well aware of the criticism against left-wing activists, who sometimes do not address the problems in south Tel Aviv, she added: “We agree that not all the asylum seekers should live in such a small place, an area that was discriminated against for so many years.”
But the south Tel Aviv residents didn’t appear convinced.
Seffi Paz, a resident of the southern neighborhood of Shapira, and one of the counter-protest organizers, said: “We call them infiltrators but they (the left-wing activists) call them refugees. We speak about crime in the neighborhoods and they say it is for survival. We say immigration police, we say detention center, they call it a concentration camp.”
Not many asylum seekers attended the protest, which was held with out a police permit. Nadim Omar, an asylum seeker from Sudan, was one of the few who did chose to come.
“I don’t think the is such a thing as ‘voluntarily leaving’,” Omar said at the rally. “The Israeli government sent asylum seekers from the cities to the Holot detention center, and people stayed there. Now the government decided that if you don’t agree to leave Israel, you are sent to prison, and that shows that the deportation plan is not working — no one wants to leave.”
Regarding the situation back in his home country, he said: “it is very dangerous to go back; only this week another man who was sent back was murdered in Sudan. They say if is safe to go back to a third country, but I read the newspapers from Uganda, and there is no agreement. People are being sent there with no coordination with the UN.”
According to reports from African activists in Israel, at least five asylum seekers have been killed after agreeing to “voluntary leave” Israel in recent months. All five had been jailed for over a year in the Holot detention center.
Israeli immigration authorities are encouraging asylum seekers from Sudan an Eritrea to leave for third countries, promising them that once they leave they will receive legal status in their new country.
Just over a month ago, the outgoing Israeli interior minister announced a plan to deport African asylum seekers to third countries. Those who don’t agree to leave will be indefinitely imprisoned under the new plan, if it is implemented.
As the protests were dispersing, some of the south Tel Aviv residents crossed the police lines and spoke directly with the activists. “We can’t live with [the asylum seekers] and you choose to support them,” said a woman to one of the activists.
“First look at us, we are suffering,” she added. An activist responded, “we are not against you; the government is responsible for the situation in south Tel Aviv.”